Despite what it may seem, I don’t only watch films from the 1940s. This evening I caught The Incredible Hulk, though probably a good bit later than most of you did, and thought I’d post a few impressions.
I did watch the TV show as a child when it was being repeated in the UK. It would be on sometimes on weekend afternoons, often around the same time as The Littlest Hobo, funny because the plots were slightly similar. I watched The Incredible Hulk TV show not because I was especially fond of the character, but because my parents often told me that they had once met The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) at a caravan show or somewhere like that.
I did read comic books as a child, but not ones in which The Hulk starred and I watched Ang Lee’s film when it came out, but it did nothing for me. You’re on dangerous ground when you start getting too serious about something called Hulk, and at the same time, if it’s too jokey and winking it would be equally unbearable. Lee, I felt, toed that line rather poorly in the case of his adaptation.
So we come to the new Incredible Hulk, which I was very sceptical about. Director Louis Leterrier is not exactly a renowned talent, and yet the film was attracting actors like Edward Norton and William Hurt? It seemed to me to have cash-in written all over it. Perhaps Norton had some kind of New York Wildlife Conservation Centre he wanted to fund or something. Well, naturally the film is a big cash in for all involved, but Norton does not sleepwalk through it. He’s actually rather good and very likeable in the picture as Bruce Banner.
In fact, I would have liked to have seen much more of him, as despite the picture being close to two hours, he feels to disappear a little in the second half, once he returns to the States and has to start acting with other folks instead of brooding alone. Perhaps it’s got something to do with me not being a huge fan of the Hulk himself, but I was never that keen for him to appear and start wrecking things, most of which I‘d seen in the advertisements as it turns out. When Norton wakes up in Guatemala after a transformation, I was more interested in seeing how he was going to both get to and get over the American border with no clothes, no money and no identification. Unfortunately the film runs over all this too quickly in a small montage, or skips it all together in some cases.
Tim Roth is paying for a holiday home by appearing in this, I suppose. They excuse him out of having to do an American accent, thank god, because that’s not one of Tim’s strong points. He doesn’t seem the best fit for the part (when I think grizzled vet soldier I don’t think Tim Roth) but he does alright with what he’s got, putting his sneer to good use. He’s not in very much of the movie (nobody is really) so there’s not enough space to make a convincing transformation for him from ‘roided up super-soldier to manic rampaging monster.
There were a number of scenes and moments that made me smile. One is when Norton checks some trousers he’s going to buy against the arse of a fat woman to see if they’ll fit him after he transforms, another is when the Hulk is frightened and enraged by a thunderstorm, and ends up throwing a huge boulder at some clouds. I’m glad these scenes survived, because the cutting clippers are definitely felt, especially in the second half. If this were a comic book, then the person reading has started flipping through the last few pages, which makes for slightly disjointed viewing.
Personally I felt the finale of the film suffered from the same problem as the other Marvel Studios film Iron Man. Both spend a great deal of the second half trying to set up and justify an equally powerful villain for the hero to face off with. The audience is expecting that a variety of interesting set-pieces are in store for their big showdown. But in both cases, the filmmakers don’t have anything up their sleeves but a small scrap on a rooftop.
Marvel were wrong to cut the extra scenes that Norton added, I think the successful moments of the finished film vindicate his interference and they would have done well to indulge him in the final cut. That said, the theatrical release serves its purpose and I think A.O Scott was justified in the New York Times in suggesting The Adequate Hulk as a more representative title. It’s serviceably entertaining, but I doubt it’s going to start any kind of Hulkamania. Everyone involved benefits a little though. The audience got to see the Hulk smash, the studio made up to the comic crowd for the first picture, Norton got to be Bill Bixby, Louis Leterrier got to prove he could direct a big time Hollywood picture and Tim Roth probably got a nice apartment in the south of France, or at least a new kitchen.